Respected cultural critic and author David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) is a middle-aged college professor who, for years, has lived in a state of "emancipated manhood." His romantic conquests are many; his lasting commitments, f... more »ew. But when a stunning young student named Consuela Castillo (Penelope Cruz) enters his life, her otherworldly beauty captivates him to the point of obsession. Soon, their erotic relationship evolves into an undying and passionate love in this gripping drama that explores the power of love to blind, reveal and transform.« less
Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY Reviewed on 9/4/2010...
Misanthropic Professor's 'redemption' comes a little too late in the game
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Why won't they learn? I'll say it over and over: sad sacks do not make for good drama. And Ben Kingsley's David Kepesh is the ultimate sad sack. Virtually everything about him is negative: his terrible relationship with his son stemming from his decision to leave his wife years ago; a 20 year old relationship with a woman that he routinely has sex with but can't get intimate with; a penchant for lying; low esteem and worst of all—inability to commit.
We're first introduced to Kepesh as he's interviewed by Charlie Rose. We find out that he's a older professor whose had some success as a cultural critic. There's some literary talk sprinkled throughout the film that at first seduces the film-goer into believing that this might be some kind of brooding intellectual psychodrama a la Ingmar Bergman. Alas it is not! What it's really about is a character whom we can care little about—precisely because he's such a wuss.
Kepesh's wussiness is manifested in his obsession with Penelope Cruz's Consuela Castillo. Her character, by the way, is even less developed then the aging, self-absorbed professor. Basically, she's Kepesh's love object; anything distinctive about her personality does not appear to be reflected in the Elegy screenplay. What's worse is her motivation for falling for creepy Kepesh. Is it simply because he's an older guy? Given his constant dour mood, I fail to see why she would be attracted to Kepesh. All kinds of red flags would have went up for Consula the second Kepesh shows up at the club, obviously jealous and trying to spy on her. And he lies to her about why he showed up to boot. That's the sign of a loser—a blatant wuss, so where was Consuela's wuss detector'?--obviously turned off until she ultimately sees the light. But would a normal woman cut a guy like Kepesh so much slack, and for so long? I think not!
I found it painful to watch the scenes where Kepesh and his oncologist son go toe to toe. The son is as much as a sad sack as the father—he's positively guilt ridden over his own infidelity. Why are virtually all the characters in the film so full of angst? How about a character who actually enjoys the affair he's having? You'll notice there's absolutely no humor in this film whatsoever—a sign that the director and her creative team takes themselves a little too seriously.
After plodding along for so long, we come to the manipulative plot twist at the climax. Wouldn't you know it but our nondescript Consuela now has cancer! Where are all those wonderful family members who showed up at her graduation party?--the one that Kepesh bailed out on. Now only the cowardly Kepesh is there for her.
But you see we soon learn that Kepesh isn't such an emotional basket case as we were led to believe after all! He actually cries when he finds out Counsela is ill and does everything he can to comfort her during her last days on this earth. In my view, Kepesh's 'redemption' comes a little too late in the game. By the time he cradles the dying Consuela, I've already written him off as a die-hard misanthrope!
Elegy is not without a few bright spots. The late Dennis Hopper does well as Kepesh's former Pulitzer Prize winning buddy, George O'Hearn, who correctly predicts that his relationship with Counsela is going nowhere. And Patricia Clarkson as Carolyn, Kepesh's long-term mistress, manages to convey some world-weary wisdom.
Kudos to director Isabel Coixet for the excellent cinematography—one of the DVD bonus features reveals that Coixet shot many scenes herself in conjunction with her director of photography. There are also interviews with the principal actors who sing the praises of the film to high heaven. Despite the beautiful look to the film, I lose faith every time I see a film where the actors truly believe they're creating something profound but in reality are peddling nothing more than abject pretentiousness masquerading as an aesthetic masterpiece.
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Elegy: A Tour de Force
Allan M. Lees | Novato, CA USA | 09/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I saw this movie - which in itself was not an easy task because it was relegated to obscure theaters at inconvenient times - only six other people were present. Clearly this movie was not made with popular appeal in mind. No guns, no CGI, no well-cued schtick and obvious dialog. Just stunningly acute direction and acting that takes the breath away.
I have never seen a film containing so much pain yet so beautifully delivered. Kingsley and Cruz turn in exquisite performances, though of course Kingsley dominates as the eternally commitment-shy academic David. It is a testimony to Kingsley's power as an actor that he enables us first to feel sympathy with David's desire to seduce his student, and then sympathy with his moral and emotional equivocation, and finally sympathy with the utter devastation that comes from the loss of his beloved.
Aside from the scenes in which David interacts with his estranged son - scenes that really could have been deleted without harming the film in any way - there is never a spare moment. This is a movie about isolation, loneliness and desire - the desire for contact, connection, and ultimately for hope. It is spare, terse, and under-stated. Unfortunately we do not live in a time when these virtues are appreciated, and many professional reviews have been very wide of the mark with their myopic criticisms.
The direction of the movie is light and assured, a million miles from the heavy-handed journey-work of most directors. Nothing is over-emphasized. Kingsley turns in what must be one of the top two or three performances of his career. The movie assumes an intelligent audience - perhaps the reason why so few people have actually seen it, and why fewer still have appreciated its richness. But for anyone who enjoys film-making at its very best, this is a must-have for the DVD or BlueRay collection."
Michael | 09/10/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Elegy with Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz in leading roles - fine performances by Dennis Hopper and Patrica Clarkson as well.
Some reviewers disliked the film calling it trite, as the erudite but emotionally impotent David Kepesh (Kingsley) with his life long committment to hedonism (particularly womanizing) leaves some unsympathic to his plight and the movie in general. Masterfully portraying the cold hearted and ultimately frightened Kepesh (wanting to end the best relationship of his life before his girlfriend ends it first, or so he tells himself) the film shows a man of culture, wit and fine intellectual prowess lay bare his world as friends die and the shallow nest of his life is flayed open.
Not a happy feel good movie, and certainly not a movie for folks who like formula characters who are politically correct at every turn, but this poignant, poetic film with hauntingly beautiful music has much to offer discerning tastes.
Unflinchingly it reminds us of the rentless movement of time, of life's unpredictable geography, of choices made, and of those simple moments of redemption. I hope we'll see more work by this director. "
Asks the best of its veteran actors
Ian S. Greenleigh | 05/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Character-fueled without skimping on story, Coixet and Meyer make it easy for us to understand the perspectives and motives of each lead without asking the viewer to like or sympathize with them. Interactions are believable within context, and dialogue is natural and interesting. Although the film is about a refined cultural critic, it never itself feels pretentious (Ben Kingsley's appropriately upturned nose notwithstanding).
Nor is the film judgmental. Once gravity is lent to what might seem a minor life crisis, the masterful pacing leaves little room to consider the defensibility of the choices made before us. Short scenes are interspersed with longer bits of dialogue, the end result being a well-proportioned mix that is constantly fluid. The shot selection keeps the film visually interesting, even in the more cerebral scenes of extended dialogue. Every once in a while, a visual metaphor seems unnecessary and contrived--as in when wilted leaves fall from a potted plant--but such annoyances are few and far between.
Kingsley is certainly in his element here, and his classical training enables him to indulge his inner British snob without guilt. His transformation from accomplished, confident sophisticate to love-struck, helpless old man is nuanced and captivating.
Not just anyone can reduce a man like that to helplessness; this feat is performed by Penelope Cruz (who else?). It's fair to say that Cruz is often typecast as the Latin seductress, but it is a role she has perfected--even elevated--in films like Todo Sobre Mi Madre. This is her at her most sympathetic, and she manages to bring something new to a role that could have easily been phoned in.
Dennis Hopper's performance is similarly familiar as a renowned American poet with 60's-era ethical permissiveness and a taste for striking women far younger than he. Like Cruz, he avoids switching on the autopilot, and eschews familiarity for freshness.
Elegy is perfectly cast, beautifully shot, and refreshingly accessible for a film of its caliber."
This serious, small movie ends up being a real pleasure for
Andy Orrock | Dallas, TX | 05/26/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first 30 minutes or so of Elegy were a bit uncomfortable...the idea and sight of Ben Kingsley's 60-ish character trying to seduce (well, "woo" as he jokingly tells his professor pal played by Dennis Hopper) a playing-24-year-old Penelope Cruz will do that. But that uncomfortableness slowly lessens as you see the maturity that Cruz's character possesses...and the immaturity displayed by Kingsley's David Kepesh. As Hopper's character pointedly tells Kepesh, "You need to grow old...and grow up." It's a spot-on piece of advice.
This serious, small movie ends up being a real pleasure for fans of intelligent movie-making. This one has it all: the pedigree of a Philip Roth novel; adapted for the screen by Nicholas Meyer; superbly directed by Isabel Coixet; and a first-rate cast of Kingsley, Cruz, Hopper, Patricia Clarkson, and Peter Sarsgaard. Moreover, there's the Easter Egg-like treat of a performance by Deborah Harry, almost unrecognizable out of her erstwhile Blondie persona.
Of special note are the one-on-one scenes between Kingsley and Hopper. You can tell they had a lot of fun together. There's a deep respect for each others' talents that plays out on the screen. The DVD's featurette confirms this: Kingsley speaks of "Dennis' rhythm as an actor" (that's a great observation), while Hopper speaks glowingly of "working with Sir Ben."
Cruz continues to be a revelation. When trying to break into English-speaking roles, she made a string of stinkers. Now, with Volver, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Elegy, she's entered a pantheon of actresses inhabited by very few. Not many women of her stature could pull off what she does in Elegy: age 33+ in the filming, she's a 24-year-old graduate student in this film. From the moment she walks into Kingsley's class, you believe it. She's stunning, classy and youthful. Now, juxtapose that vs. the world-weariness she needed to exhibit to pull off what she did in Volver. Incredible stuff."
K. Chung | New York, NY | 09/06/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie was FANTASTIC to say the very least! A true must see film. Performances were great...along with a great script and directing. If this film doesn't move you, then there is something wrong. A true take on the process of aging and impact it has on life decisions and happiness."